I wrote the blog post about the huge high that was the launch of my first solo collection while blocking out the dark night of the soul that had followed it, the low I’ll call the post-book slump.
After the big night my friend congratulated me by saying “you launched yourself to the moon.” From there, where did I really have to go but down? So it’s no surprise, and I’m sure it’s a normal thing, that my descent from the heights was less than graceful.
The book launched September 30. The next day was the beginning of my commitment to write one poem a day in October, an annual exercise I do with my art group. Newly liberated from a fixed work schedule (a.k.a. underemployed), I was looking forward to gliding down from the moon into a serene daily art practice.
I guess you can already tell it didn’t go that way.
After dropping the kids at school that morning I faced it for the first time: the immense pressure experienced by a now-published writer in search of a new project. The project must not only be new, it also must be better, more innovative, more mature. And, I added to this already long-enough list, it must be very different from the old project: no more mommy poems.
At first I tried all my usual tricks and superstitions—going for jogs, writing out ideas, sitting with the open notebook before me—looking for the shape of the next sequence of poems or the horizon of the next book. Nothing. For a while I stopped trying, let myself get busy with editing, book promo, parenting.
I didn’t really have nothing. I had scraps of verse running through my mind. They were disjointed and weird, just ideas for pieces I might write someday, hardly the next big thing I was hoping for. It took at least until the middle of the month to settle for writing those poems, and the five or so poems I wrote—some of them are mommy poems—are all I have to show for the month of October.
Since launching my book I’ve had to relearn a lot of old lessons: big projects start small, and often without a clear direction in mind; fear, anxiety, and constraint are not good generators of creativity; write what you know, and if you don’t like what you know, learn something new; write it down and then start editing, don’t self-censor and leave the page blank; one-a-day doesn’t mean a masterpiece a day, it just means finding time in daily life to make something.
There were high points in the month: making the bestseller list at McNally Robinson Booksellers for two weeks in a row, reading my poems onstage at the Gas Station Theatre’s Girls! Girls! Girls! fundraiser, and being invited to write a “behind the poem” piece for 49th Shelf [http://49thshelf.com/Blog/2013/11/11/Behind-the-Poem-DH-by-Melanie-Dennis-Unrau]. Friends and neighbours still stop me on the street to congratulate me on my book or to say they like my poems. There’s a lot to love about having a new book out, so I’ll take it even with the slump.
The next book project seems far off right now. What shape it will take, or whether it will even happen, is unknown. I got way too far ahead of myself right after the launch, and after my bumpy landing back on the ground I’m scaling back, taking the ideas as they come, making room, watching the surface of my everyday life for the buds of new poems breaking through.